I Talk About Jesus When I Drink

A Mother’s Day Story (not really)

Sometimes I drink too much. I’m an Enneagram 7. Sometimes I do everything too much. But today, as I lay here in the wake of a killer hangover, I’m thinking about drinking too much. 

7’s are the Enthusiasts and our vice is gluttony. We want more. We don’t want the party to end. Our virtue is sobriety. When we can step into sobriety we can be content in the present moment without always planning for more, more, more.  Sometimes I do that well, other times, not so much. It’s particularly hard to do this in stressful times and the last month has been pretty stressful.  

Some of my favorite people, my beloved people, are sober people. They are alcoholics who do the hard and transforming  work of the 12 Steps.  I’ve seen the biggest spiritual transformations in people who have gotten sober. And I don’t just mean the stopping drinking. That’s the first step. I mean living a sober life. 

What does that even mean “living a sober life”? 

To me that means knowing yourself well enough to know when you’re living out of your healthy self and when you’re reacting out of your brokenness. The Enneagram has been a great tool for me in this regard. I know what my fixation, which is planning, looks like and when I fall into those behaviors it means I’m not standing in the center of my boat.  Sometimes it looks like obsessing on Zillow searches, buying midcentury pottery I can’t afford, starting projects I don’t have time for, getting way too over involved in the lives of my adult children, and sometimes it looks like not wanting the party to end at happy hour. 

The Zillow searches and pottery buying usually don’t cause the shame spiral that a hangover does though.  A couple years ago I was in one of those shame spirals after a pretty terrible Mardi Gras. We were invited by friends we didn’t know all that well and out of maybe nervousness and .. well it being Mardi Gras, I got blitzed.  “It’s Mardi Gras, chill out!” you might say. It wasn’t that, the shame came from what I did.  When I get over served, I talk about Jesus. 

Yup.  Go ahead. Judge me. 

So at the King’s Tent at Mardi Gras as I talked to strangers I told them that I was on my way to seminary to become a spiritual director.  (Insert facepalm emoji)  

And then again, last night as I sat around with colleagues after bringing the happy hour to my front porch, one friend suggested we play “tell us something about yourself that we might not know.” I said “I’m a Jesus person.”  I might have said, “I love Jesus.”

First of all, if you’ve been reading this blog you obviously know I’m a Jesus person. And while Jesus did not turn water into Hi-C, this was still not the best moment to share a complex and deeply personal faith story. Not much nuance there to explain how I struggle with doubt, how I’ve deconstructed so much of what I was taught and worked incredibly hard to build a spiritual life that reflects the mystery that the Jesus story encompasses.  How, like Rilke encourages, I try to live into the questions and not simply have the answers. 

I had too many Tank 7’s to articulate any of that. Cue shame spiral. #😶🌪

After that fateful Mardi Gras my  emotional hangover lasted far longer than the physical one. How was I about to start seminary? How could I do this kind of work and feel like a screw up? I was reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People during lent and I stumbled on this passage: 

“God doesn’t make sense and you don’t need to either because this God will use you, this God will use ALL of you. Not just your strengths but your failures and your failings. Your weakness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful. So don’t ever think that all you have to offer are your gifts. Sometimes the fact that there is nothing about you that makes you the right person to do something is exactly what God is looking for.” - Nadia Bolz-Weber

I took a breath and read it again. Relief. Yup, I mess up. I don’t have to be perfect, and even in my brokenness there is space for compassion. My hope became that in my own struggles I could walk with those struggling.

But let’s go back. Here’s a question: Why do I talk about Jesus when I drink? Perhaps my intention to be open about my faith when I’ve had a few is more telling about what I don’t say under normal circumstances.

There’s a stigma in being a Christian around like-minded progressive people. I always wanted to be Jewish. That seemed much cooler. Cultural. There’s assumptions made when you say you’re a Christian. Perhaps a naïveté that’s immediately ascribed.  People assume you’re homophobic or at least maybe “love the sinner, hate the sin” kind of homophobic. People might think they understand your political leanings or your feelings on social issues. They might even have questions about your intelligence or think you don’t believe in scientific theory. Maybe to them you just sound disingenuous and saccharine.

Or perhaps these are just baseless fears swirling in my head. Maybe a proclamation of faith is too big to be said out loud. It deserves something with more weight than a mere voiced pronouncement.

Here’s another question: Why Jesus? This was a question the late Rachel Held Evans asked when she invited a group of amazing women pastors and lay women to speak at the Why Christian? Conference. (I encourage you to read her blog about it.)

This fleshy, tangible, complex, multi-faceted, doubt-riddled, question-drenched, hard-won yet resoundingly-clear answer to the great riddle that brought us all there: 

Why Christian? 

Why—with all the atrocities past and present committed in God’s name, amidst all the hostile divisions ripping apart Christ’s Church, in spite of all our own doubts and frustrations and fears about faith—are we still Christian? Why do we still have skin in the game? - RHE

The answers were varied and beautiful but Rachel’s answer is the one that speaks to me most fully as a story person myself. She said, “I am a Christian, I concluded, because the story of Jesus is the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.” That’s it for me. A story of God enfleshed and radically standing for the least of these, for the weakest parts of us, for transformation and forgiveness. A willingness to love in spite of everything. To love anyway. That’s a story worth the risk.

I hear people, including myself, equivocating when the subject of faith comes up:

  • I go to church but I’m really just there for community.

  • I’m spiritual but not religious.

  • I like the tradition but don’t really buy into it.

I don’t think you have to go to church or pray a certain prayer or even use any specific kind of God language to be a Jesus person. I know lots of Jesus people walking around who wouldn’t describe themselves that way. That’s ok. That’s great, actually. But as a culture, we’ve kinda thrown the baby Jesus out with the bath water. Maybe that’s why my simple, “I love Jesus” takes the liquid courage it does to say without equivocation and seemingly without shame. It’s too scary and charged any other way… Or maybe it’s just my version of a slurry “I love you man.” 

I don’t know, but as I finish this post on Mother’s Day, no longer hung over and attempting to move back into the center of my boat, I’m grateful for the too muchness of me, for the grace and compassion that trumps shame, and even for the cringe worthy and awkward stumbling of my professions of faith. Perhaps one day I can say it sober as a judge. Maybe even write about it in a blog.


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Celeste Barber is Doing the Lord's Work

What does it mean to live in our bodies without shame? (and a guest post from nutrition coach Julie Layton on Food as Spiritual Practice)

When I was 12 years old and in 7th grade I was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to spend the next two years wearing a fiberglass back brace.  Needless to say, it sucked.  Let me count the ways it sucketh:

There was one good thing about the brace. A party trick. I’d provoke the 13 year old boys to punch me in the stomach and afterward when they yelled at me for hurting them, me and my friends would laugh hysterically and run away.  I had friends. I had lots of friends and my awkwardness and elastic pants didn’t cause them to love me any less.  I had moments when I wished I was Carrie Anderson, the pretty popular girl that all the boys liked, instead of Kelley Anderson, but honestly, the brace was more of a pain in the ass than the existential torment of my relationship with my body. 

That came after the brace came off and the boobs came on. I was a curvy girl. I don’t think I was fat. I remember my friend Michelle saying, “Kelley you’re not fat, you HAVE FAT.”  Honestly looking back I barely had fat. I wasn’t a lithe soccer player. I was a big-boobed dancer who weighed probably 120 pounds. I was healthy. And yet... 

The messages began. My parents got nervous around my changing body and started making comments. It was no longer ok for me to eat cookies after school. My skin would get a pinch around my waist with an accompanying, “be careful here.”  At 15 I started going to The Diet Center in town. I mean, who didn’t want to feel confident wearing a leotard and high waist jeans?

Someone that loves me dearly said to me once, “Kelley you’re like an anorexic but opposite, you think you look ok but you don’t.” 

... yeah.. ouch. So there’s that. 

We are always loved imperfectly.  And at the same time, we always receive love imperfectly. I’m sure there were thousands of messages of how good, smart, funny and beautiful I was. But all I heard was “you don’t look ok.” 

And what we don’t transform, we transmit right? So for as sensitive as I am to the issues around body shaming, I know my daughter has heard out of my mouth things that have diminished her sense of self and her love of her own body. And for that, I am deeply regretful. 

Being out of alignment with our own bodies is a form of spiritual sickness. And when I say “out of alignment” I don’t mean that we fail to worship at the altar of Keto while riding our Peletons two hours a day. I mean that we literally can’t feel what our bodies feel. We’re disconnected. We’re heads floating above an amorphous mass of flesh that just gives us signals to react. 

The shaming messages the world inundates us with disconnect us from our bodies.

Feeling how our emotions live in our body is so important to living a mindful, emotionally intelligent life. It’s also important for our safety. We need to understand how to trust our gut instincts around other people and experiences to keep us safe. If women are disconnected from their instinctual center, they are dangerously vulnerable. (And I don’t mean our instincts that have been co-opted by bias.)

Also, if we are disconnected from our bodies we can’t enjoy life the way  it was intended for us to enjoy it.  The pleasures of food, taste, yes but not just taste - how food can make us feel empowered and strong.  The invigorating high of exercise and putting our bodies out in nature.

And sex, not just the momentary pleasure, but the whole body, whole  being connection of body to body - soul to soul. We are meant to enjoy our bodies, and we are meant to know deep, true and beautiful things THROUGH our bodies. We are not just brains and hearts running around thinking and feeling things - we are meant to experience life somatically as well.

Meister Eckhart , the 14th century theologian and mystic said, “The soul is not in the body so much as the body is in the soul.” 

This rings true to me.  That we are corporeal and porous  beings swimming in soul.  Our bridge to connection is through this beautiful bag of bones. 

And speaking of beautiful bag of bones, CELESTE BARBER IS DOING THE LORD’s WORK.   Barber is an Australian actress turned  Instagram  comedian and she is a healer of body shame for women all over the globe. She recreates ridiculous social media posts and high fashion photos that often objectify women. She puts herself right there on the front line mocking standards of beauty.

We are so accustomed to seeing images that have been altered and enhanced, Barber’s self deprecating realism is a healing balm with every lol.

She reminds us what normal is and she reminds us that it’s good, it’s true and it’s beautiful. What a concept.

Today, one of my students did a monologue from the play Ashgirl from the Australian playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker. It was so heart breaking to hear the back and forth of a young girl looking at herself in the mirror, not trusting what she is seeing. But the final line stopped me in my tracks and I had to swallow hard before asking her to do it again…

ASHGIRL:

I’ll work hard,I’ll grow old, one day I’ll die. How can I go to a ball?

Look at me. Look at me. Look at me...Who’s that? Who are you? Who am I? I can’t see you. I’m ugly. I look disgusting, horrible.

What happened, where are you? I'm the wrong shape, size, I’m fat….

Maybe I’m not so bad. Normal. And my eyes seem very bright…

I’m so crooked....

There, I’m almost graceful. Actually, I am rather pleasing. There's something about having a body, two arms, hands, legs, it’s all rather harmonious…

What a prayer for us all as we look in the mirror. May we see the harmony and may we learn to listen to its wisdom.


Food as Spiritual Practice: Getting Rid of Black and White Thinking and Listening to Our Bodies

by Julie Layton, Generous Helping

I’m grateful for two reasons: one, because Kelley asked me to contribute this piece for her newsletter. I read and relish this newsletter every week, so I’m deeply honored to have been asked to contribute. Plus, I love writing and yet never make the time for it. Good thing that I’m very motivated by others’ deadlines and expectations (Kelley would say that’s the Enneagram 2 in me). 

And two, for the inspiration that came from reading my friend Michelle’s post “What it Means to be Good” in the March 2nd edition of this newsletter (go back and read it if you haven’t). In it, she contemplates the big-ticket concepts of self-love, worthiness, forgiveness and deprivation-as-penance in light of her perception of what it is to be “good.”

So many of us see food through the lens of “good” or “bad.” Think about it. Broccoli: good. Hostess cupcake: bad. Berries: good. Taco Bell’s Nachos BellGrande: bad (actually, quite delicious at 2 a.m.). We can all agree on these, right? But let’s delve deeper: Whole-wheat bread? We know whole grains are better than white flour. So, good, right? But when whole grains are milled for flour, they’re not as healthful as they are when left intact; in fact, any refined grain acts more like a sugar in our bodies. Ugh! So…bad? If a person with Celiac eats wheat of any kind, it can be quite dangerous. So, in this case: really bad. If a family of four who struggles to get food on the table is able to feed everyone cheese sandwiches on bread of any kind, can it really be bad?

You see my point: labeling food “good” or “bad” is troublesome and downright confusing. And besides, what does “good” food even mean? Does it mean it helps you lose weight? Does it mean it’s delicious? Does it mean it fits within the confines of a way of eating you subscribe to? For example, when I was strictly Paleo, I would call rice “naughty.” There’s honestly nothing “naughty” about rice. It feeds most of the world’s population and can definitely be part of a very healthful diet. But my view was very black and white, and I was comfortable there. Any dogmatic way of eating is both comfortable and tough. Tough, obviously, because some foods are off limits and therefore tempt you. But comfortable, because someone else has drawn the line between “good” and “bad” for you.

In my own quest to better understand food and help others create their own healthful food journeys, a few years ago I enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (https://www.integrativenutrition.com), where I received my health coaching certification. IIN promotes the idea that health can’t be achieved through food alone and emphasizes the concept of bio-individuality: that no two people are completely alike, so how we achieve health and happiness will look different for us all. “Sure, sure,” I thought, “but there are obviously indisputable truths to what we should eat.” Throughout the year-long program, IIN curated a lineup of many well-respected and credentialed people presenting their very different ideas of which foods were “good” and “bad.” It made my head spin! I panicked. “Oh great; I enrolled in this program to make nutrition clearer, and here it’s confusing me more!” I was looking for rights and wrongs, dos and don’ts; instead, all I had were more questions. 

In the end, however, I came to realize what IIN was ultimately teaching its students: there are no right answers for everyone. (Aha! There’s that concept of bio-individuality.) Only we alone have the answers to what our bodies need. Not her body, not his body; my own. As a coach, I cannot prescribe any way of eating to my clients; it just doesn’t work that way. I can, however, encourage them to slow down, get quiet and notice the differences they feel after eating processed food versus whole food, for instance, or drinking water instead of soda. Because when we start listening to the feedback our bodies give us and respecting that with our actions, we will be our healthiest selves. 

It’s hard work listening to ourselves, which is why so many people struggle in their relationship with food--there are a lot of other voices in there making noise, it’s easier to believe others than ourselves, and we may have to reevaluate how we view “good” and “bad” if we listen that closely.

Inspired by all of this, I have started a home-cooking coaching business (called Generous Helping). It’s my personal belief that when we cook for ourselves and our people with whole foods that work best with our bodies, we’re committing a radical act of self-love. And I want that for my fellow humans. 

Isn’t that just what Michelle concludes in her reflection on what it means to be good? That there is no such a thing. All we can do is be whole by honoring who we are.


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A Trip to the Black Madonna

Southern Gothic meets Midwestern kitsch, which is my kind of pilgrimage and just what I needed before this Holy Week.

Last week I was talking to my old friend, Kaitlyn, who tours the country with Broadway musicals. She’s in charge of all the costumes. This is an enormous job. Just thinking of all the ballet shoes in Phantom makes me pass out with organizational overwhelm. This is the first year in decades that she has stayed in one place. Usually she is wandering all over the world with work, or in her downtime wandering all over the world exploring. In our conversation she happened to mention a trip she had taken several years ago to see the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Eureka, Missouri. [cue stunned pause]

“What!?” I said. “When? Where? I live 30 minutes from Eureka. How have I never heard of this place?”

“I don’t know Kell,” she said, “it’s there.”


Fast forward to Tuesday night, I was in my cohort group for the Living School, the two year program I’m in at the Center for Action and Contemplation. The question posed to our motley band of seekers was, “Where did you come from, spiritually?” I knew the question was coming but still, my heart was in my throat. I hate this question. It makes me angry. When it was my turn I’m not even sure what I said.

“I’m from inerrancy and literalism, from anti-science creationism, from boxes that are too small, from Grace that wasn’t for everybody, from Calvinism, from the elected, from disdain for liturgy and symbol, from pre-destination, from original sin and rapture, from purity culture, from substitutional atonement theory, from cis straight men, from an angry God and a very white, very Western Jesus.”

I don’t like to go back there. And yet somehow, I keep returning. Not because I believe it - but because I’m still so angry. I’m like one of those people that can’t get over their divorce and keeps talking about their ex. God, how boring! And yet, not much makes me cry, but right on schedule - talking about growing up in Evangelical culture makes me mad cry.

Right after I angry cry all over my zoom call and vent all my resentments on my sweet fellow cohort members, I regret it. The voice in my head tells me I’m too negative. I’m too angry. It reminds me I still have lots of work to do. Eh.. the voice can suck it.


The next morning I wake to the sun and the inspiration that THIS is the day to visit the Black Madonna. I’m on spring break and I need a pilgrimage. I lay in bed and do a bit of research on the Shrine and the Grottoes built by the Polish monk, Brother Bronislaus. The Franciscan Missionary Brothers emigrated from Poland to St. Louis in 1927. In Poland the icon of the Black Madonna and child known as Our Lady of Czestochowa is said to have been painted by St. Luke himself two thousand years ago. Brother Bronislaus grew up in Czestochowa watching pilgrims travel to pay tribute to the Black Madonna. Watching the lengths that pilgrims would travel made a huge impression on the young boy. When he reached America he dedicated himself to clearing the land and building a chapel to dedicate to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. It was a lifetime labor of love to create the chapel and the surrounding grottoes.

He built the grottoes by hand with Missouri Barite or TIFF rock from a mine in Potosi 30 miles away. The grottoes are adorned with donated sea shells (remember we’re very much land locked) and costume jewelry (most of which has been removed by visitors). They are a site to behold. The grotto for St. Francis is covered in your grandmother’s kitschy bird ornaments and the lamb and bunnies sitting at the base of the grotto were made from pouring concrete into cake tins. It’s magic.

There are glass bottles that act as stained glass to let in colored light and topiaries made of recovered chandeliers and concrete flowers made from cupcake tins. But if you step back and take in the grandeur of the grotto - you would think you were, well maybe not in Rome, but perhaps in a small country town on the outskirts.

It’s Southern Gothic meets Midwestern Kitsch and I love it. It speaks to one man’s unwavering devotion and love for God. It speaks to answering a call without fanfare but with a whole lot of flourish. It speaks to the fact that what you have right now is good enough to build your altar. In fact, what you have isn’t just “good enough,” it’s perfect.

The original chapel was burned down by an arsonist in 1958 so an open air chapel was created. It has a mosaic front with three Black Madonna’s and a statue of Jesus. You can light a candle for $4.

In the Garden of Gethsemane,“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Check out this article by Fr. James Martin ‘What Gethsemane Teaches Us About Suffering’


After walking the grounds I sat for a long while on the bench behind Golgotha. Around me the forest floor was covered in daffodils and crocuses and the sun was warm enough to offset the cool breeze. It was quiet and I was completely alone. I looked over toward the rebuilt chapel and the Grotto of Mary the Mother of Sorrows that Bronislaus tore apart and rebuilt several times over his life. Finally, I looked up at the crucification.

“You brought me out here,” I thought as I looked towards Jesus’ back. “You brought me here cause this is where I came from, right? This crazy beautiful story of patch worked attempts at holiness. This story that includes pain but also includes the promise that resurrection is not only possible but inevitable.”

A teacher of mine says, “The pain you don’t transform, you transmit.”

The salvation story is one of transformation where we’re not called to simply believe a set of doctrines, we’re called to actually transform our egotism, our need for power and control, our resentments and greed - all those things that keep us from enacting God’s liberating love. Transform and be of use in love. “The entire law is fulfilled by keeping this one commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14, NIV) If we don’t transform our pain, our grief we certainly can’t love our neighbor well. We have clear and recent examples of that.

And here transformation was all around me. The burned down chapel converted to an open air shrine. Grandma’s porcelain unwanted birds becoming St.Francis’ beloved friends. The communion wine bottle turned into stained glass. And me, even me, an angry ex-evangelical going on pilgrimage to find that everything belongs exactly because everything in some way finds its way to transformation, if only in death. But just as Jesus came to live and not to simply die, so too we are here to live. To live and to love one another. To build our own sacred, ridiculous altar to hope pieced together with bits and bobbles in the form of our lives.

Ok, let’s try this again…


“I am from a place where junk is repurposed for Beauty and hearts are resourced with silence. I am from a place where God is endlessly knowable and mystery is welcome. I am from a place where the story is in the living and not in the dying. Where change is possible even in those of us most addicted to our selves. I am from a Love so big that a man would spend his life building and rebuilding an altar out of rock and scraps to create a Holy landscape out in the middle of nowhere but for a few wandering pilgrims.

I am also from honeysuckle and wild raspberries. From catching tadpoles in creek beds. I am from feeling inadequate and loved at the same time. I am from a family steeped in traditions that don’t all work, but that’s ok because I am also from a family that once broke down in a station wagon in Ohio on their own pilgrimage to come see me in a college play. I am from generosity and deep friendships. I am from all night dinner parties and rock and roll music. And I am from grief and shame as well as an indescribable legacy of love and sacrifice.”

I sit for a while longer in the silence and breathe in the sweet fragrance of hyacinth. I don’t want to leave that bench and the sun and the cool breeze, but my memory has been gifted back to me and I’m ready to go home.


May this Holy Week remind you where you’ve come from and may it be a blessing.


Interested in Spiritual Direction?

Poet, David Whyte at the Cliff's Edge

As we stand at the edge of Easter and the edge of all kinds of new beginnings, I don’t want to go back to the way things were. I want to go forward into a new world with new promise.

“The waves and the energy of the sea meeting the land and the mountains beyond generate a very palpable experience of being drawn out of ourselves just by the sheer physical power of the place. Felt fully, there is the sense of a wild frontier or edge meeting some interior equivalent or symmetry. It’s almost as if there is an internal shoreline which meets this external shoreline – an edge that can be replete with energy, creativity and a certain kind of wild, untrammeled joy. “

- David Whyte, from At the Edge of the World

Have you ever stood on the edge of a cliff? Take a minute and imagine that feeling. Like the above quote says, there’s an energy at the edge of a cliff, a dangerous pull to fly. Or perhaps you imagine the vision of the landscape and the gift of expanse the cliff allows. Either way, the energy is palpable. I feel it right in my solar plexus.

I’ve been dreaming of cliff edges lately.

The most vivid of these dreams was the most terrifying I’d ever had. I woke up gripping my covers, heart racing, stomach and neck tight from straining to scream. (Perhaps, just perhaps, there’s some repressed anxiety of the last year. *eye roll*)

It felt like more than that though. It felt mythic.

Excerpt from THOOR ANU

David Whyte

You did not know you had come
to meet the ocean,
thinking the cliff edge
had everything you'd need,
but when you stared into
the deep vault
of blue from which the revelation
came
and you heard the drumbeat
of arriving water
and looked into
the bowl
of waves and breaking foam,
and sat there stunned
and numb in the underbelly
of the turning world
the vision
was immediate,
a ghost-like far-in horizon
come to meet the sea [...]

Since the night I woke up from the nightmare on the cliff’s edge, I’ve been trying to put some meaning around it. Howard Thurman gives us “the growing edge” of hope; Richard Rohr gives us the phrase “on the edge of the inside” referring to intentionally staying on the margins of places; and the poet David Whyte gives us poetry “At the Edge of the World.”

This is the title of a three part Sunday series that Whyte is currently hosting. It has been like sitting by the turf fire having tea with your favorite professor, who you have a massive crush on, as you sit dreamily hanging on his every word. Sometimes he even has cool musicians over to play Irish music. That’s my perspective. He describes the series as a “mythopoetic tour of the West of Ireland.” Ok, it’s that too.

Bill and I were planning a trip to Ireland last summer before Covid hit. In preparation I had just done a big project on the poet and theologian John O’Donohue for a class’ final paper. I had lived in the landscape of Ireland in my imagination for months reading O’Donohue as I imagined walking with him in The Burren. Whyte and O’Donohue were close friends and shared the same vision of the poetics of place. For both poets, one a former priest and the other a Zen Buddhist, the landscape of Ireland is woven with the ghosts of ancestors and the thresholds of thin places.

One such place, Whyte says, where the mountains meet the sea is a place of “ancient conversation” where the interior landscape meets what’s beckoning outside. It is a threshold mythic in scope. “This wild edge for which we all have an interior equivalent symmetry,” as Whyte describes is, I believe, that place that sent me reeling in my dream. Why was I so afraid?

The edge is always an invitation to go deeper. To drink from a deeper well.

So how do we do that, preferably without waking up to your own silent scream? I’m going to attempt to answer based on what I’ve learned so far sitting at the feet of the poet.

Step 1: Be good to yourself and stop the conversation that you’ve been having with yourself for so long. What would happen if you just stopped telling yourself the stories? You don’t need to justify, disprove, reimagine - just stop. There in the silence beneath the stories, what’s left? Who are you? At this edge of time and expanse of future, this is a good place to let go our unhelpful stories

But for now you are alone with the transfiguration
and ask no healing for your own
but look down as if looking through time,
as if through a rent veil from the other
side of the question you’ve refused to ask.

And you remember now, that clear stream of generosity from which you drank, how as a child your arms could rise and your palms
turn out to bless the world.

(from TOBAR PHADRAIC)

Step Two: Embrace our aloneness, even as we are connected to all things. This relationship between aloneness and connection is in constant conversation, perhaps even negotiation. I think of a young mother who as everyone is pulling at her body, her time, her resources she can be in a state of utter aloneness. (If you are on insight timer there is a beautiful new course from Sarah Blondin called This Deepest Self that starts with a guided mediation on The Wisdom of Loneliness where she describes “the jagged edge of loneliness.”)

We have all experienced loneliness in this last year, but have we also gained a capacity for aloneness that we can bring forward? To embrace our solitary nature is to embrace our essence which is connected to everything. Counterintuitive for sure. Standing back at the edge of our aloneness we’re able to see everything we are connected to.

Step Three: Risk yourself at the edge. So often to avoid the loneliness of isolation or the overwhelm of connection, we stay safely and numbly in the center of all things. There’s an exercise I do every year with my students. I ask them to walk around the stage. Simple. Just walk. I don’t give them any more direction than that, and yet every year they all do the same thing. They walk at a middling speed in a circle. Like sheep. Or zombies. Or zombie sheep. After prompting them with instructions, they begin to walk at different speeds, in different directions. They start to make shapes with their bodies, and walk with big or small steps. Sometimes they even stop. And when they begin to realize all the choices at their disposal, they begin to find joy. We humans avoid giving ourselves the inheritance of our own agency. Especially when it comes to a simple act, we can overlook the joy it offers.

Whyte also reminds us of the French philosopher Camus who writes, “Live to the point of tears.” When we move away from the middle numbness and take this risk of joy and tears, we remember the younger parts of ourselves where joy and tears were common occurrences each day. The world meets us at this edge with a clear stream of generosity. But trusting that this sheer grace is available to us in that place of vulnerability is not an easy step to take towards that cliff edge. (cue silent screaming)

Step Four: Practice radical acts of generosity. Once you experience that stream of generosity you can then become that stream. Put down your phone. Get outside and make space for conversation perhaps with a younger person that needs to be seen and heard. Practice generosity with yourself and rest. As Whyte says, “touch that bedrock of rest — the ability to breathe deeply.” We have all been through so much and as we look towards a new day, let it be filled with graciousness.

When you find a place in Nature where the mind and heart find rest, then you have discovered a sanctuary for your soul.” - John O’Donohue

So why was my dream at the Cliff’s Edge so desperately frightening? I have an idea. Whyte uses a metaphor about poetry that I’ve often used when teaching acting. That in order to be creative - authentically, truly creative - you must jump. It is a terrifying step of vulnerability to trust your work, trust those around you.. trust that the stream of generosity will be there for you if you fall. We cannot horde control and be an artist. It just doesn’t work that way. We have to let go into the unknown and let ourselves fall into the abyss, into the midst of that mythic conversation between our interior landscape and the exterior beckoning us. To learn this letting go as an artist is hard enough, but to learn this letting go as a human being takes… perhaps something like a pandemic to shake us into a new reality.

Finally Whyte asks us, “What can you do today to be the ancestor to your future happiness?” How indeed do we move into Easter, into a new burgeoning life with hope? I’m going to try. I hope you do too. Be not afraid …

To walk out into the clean air,
toward that edge and taken the path up high beyond the ordinary, you have become the privileged and the pilgrim, the one who will tell the story and the one coming back from the mountain who helped make it happen.


Interested in Spiritual Direction?

If you are interested in exploring what Spiritual Direction is please feel free to reach out. I work with people in all kinds of places from people steeped in various religious practices to people who do not use God language at all to describe their spiritual lives. I try to create a safe, judgement free place for you to explore your spiritual journey.

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What it means to be good

Guest Writer!!! Michelle Hand writes about her struggle with Lent and reconciling one's self to the notion of unconditional love.

An Introductory Note:

Some of the bright spots of this pandemic have been spending evenings with my dear friend Michelle on her porch or beside her fire pit. We have been very careful always keeping distant and even masking up between our sips of wine. I can’t wait to hug her again.

Michelle texted me about a month ago - What do you think of Simone Weil? I told her that while I love the French philosopher and mystic’s ideas and her story, I have a really hard time reading her. Weil is a bit dark for me. She was born into a secular Jewish household at the turn of the century, but became a perennial mystic later in life drawn to Christianity as well as Eastern religious practices. Weil’s life was bookended by world wars which, I’m sure, made her unduly susceptible to the dark night of the soul. Simone Weil died at the age of 34 basically by refusing to eat more than what she had determined the German occupied Frenchman ate. For a person so in tune with suffering Weil talks about its transformational potential. “Attention,” she says, “is the purest form of generosity.”

We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of nearby objects. I can will to put my hand flat on the table. If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will. As this is not the case, we can only beg for them… Or should we cease to desire them? What could be worse? Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter. What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem. Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind. There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man. It is the result of a mistake.

Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

If we turn our mind toward the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.

- Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Embedded in Weil’s ideas is this sense of kenosis, a self-emptying or a letting go. There is the gravity of suffering and the grace of supplication. But this supplication is an open hearted attention to Beauty.

This reminds me of Cynthia Bourgeault’s teaching on the Divine Exchange. There is a divine economy at work. Anything that creates withholding, tension, or like Weil calls it, “a tightening up,” keeps us from receiving fully. But as we practice the flow of letting go and receiving and then letting go again, we become one with the divine dance of abundance.

I asked Michelle if, as she was reading Weil, she wanted to write something for the newsletter. Michelle is an amazing writer and I had selfish motives for asking her to write. She quickly agreed and I’m happy to share with you her essay here. I’m not surprised that in the season of Lent and steeped in the writing of Simone Weil, that Michelle chose to write about the struggle of what it means to be good. For this was Simone’s lifelong journey - to be worthy, to identify with the suffering of others and to ultimately, find her path to God’s full Grace. - Kelley

What it Means to be Good

by Michelle Hand

As we approach this second Sunday of Lent, I find myself struggling—two weeks in and I’ve yet to enact any of the practices the season encourages in preparation for Easter.  Noteworthy because I typically look forward to this time—like tumbling out the door after a late night party into the bracing shock of winter air, Lent can shake me from any residual stupor following holiday indulgences and return me to my senses.  Fasting reacquaints me with what I truly hunger for, simplifying reveals what I truly have, and self-reflection unmasks who I truly am.  Lent, at its best, clarifies. 

But there is an aspect of Lent that troubles me.  And much like the way I avoid mirrors on Ash Wednesday so as not to be tempted to tidy up the large smear on my forehead, I have often turned away from the troubling concept of penance. Specifically, the way Lenten sacrifices are depicted as privations meant to hurt, to punish—for while penance is supposed to be voluntary, no matter how much we give up, it will never change the fact we are, and remain, fundamentally guilty. There is something about this pandemic year where I feel reluctant to sacrifice anything in the name of punishing myself.  It might be that I am weary from having already given up so much. It might also be I am weary of thinking of myself as someone who has been given up on unless I earn my way back.

Maybe Lent and I have always had a misunderstanding.  Maybe many of us have.  

My dad coached my grade-school basketball team and, had he not, it is unlikely I ever would have made the squad.  I was smaller than everyone else, the pebbled ball huge and unweildly in my hands.  After a disastrous first practice, he took me aside and said: There will always be players bigger and better than you—but you can stay in the game with hustle.  You have to hustle harder than anyone else out there.  

And he was right.  I sometimes was able to make the play by simply outrunning the bigger and better player.  But that relief was always short-lived because I knew my place on the court was uncertain—it had to be earned every second, all my energy directed at insuring the other team never caught on to my weaknesses.  How many of us have spent our lives like that? Hustling and striving to prove we are a worthy team player, parent, friend, or spouse?  How many churches have been born out of a white-knuckled effort to stave off the fear we might not be good enough in the eyes of God?  How many Lenten privations do we have to suffer before we’re finally going to be worthy of Easter?   

Richard Rohr claims we come by this misunderstanding honestly—the Reformation saw the circulation of the penal substitutionary atonement theory—whereby Christ by his own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of humans, thus satisfying the ‘demands of justice’ so that God could forgive our sins.  The consequences of the theory are that generations have been led to believe our relationship to God is shaped by a one-time transactional affair between Jesus and his Father instead of an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul.  We have been led to believe if we do the right things—attending fish fries and forsaking coffee and downloading a devotional app—we will somehow earn our place at God’s side.  This model has persisted, I think, because while transactional love comes with its existential agonies and pains, it also promises a relatively easy spiritual path.  I’ve been guilty of spending many a Lenten season checking off my devotional to-do-list with great satisfaction.  When the requisite 40 days had passed, I would drop those practices and slide with relief back into life as it had been before.  For Rohr, if we could instead receive Lent as an invitation to be transformed by love rather than punished by those practices—to be challenged by Christ’s life for the sake of insight, healing and restoration—we might finally arrive at Easter as intended. 

Seems an elegant solution, no? So why does my heart flutter to my throat at the mention of the word transformation?  Maybe because I’m all for a renovation project—there is a relief in using Lent to address the cracks and crumbling corners in myself.  In part because I don’t have to spend so much time slamming doors when I keep company in fear they might see what a mess lies behind them.  In greater part, because I do not know how to reconcile my own sense of who I’d love to be with loving who I am.  What if the transformation does not include improvement?  How can Christ take all of me in and not find me wanting—after all this time, all this hustle, how can what is there already be enough?  That feels like a desert too far to cross.

How do we reconcile ourselves to unconditional love? How do we recover from the lifelong consequences of being confused about what love—worthiness—really looks like?  Simone Weil says we can recover in this way.  Consider God’s love for us is not the reason for which we should love him.  God’s love for us is the reason for us to love ourselves.  How could we love ourselves without this motive? How can we indeed.

God’s love for us is not the reason for which we should love him.  God’s love for us is the reason for us to love ourselves. How could we love ourselves without this motive?

- Simone Weil

Perhaps in this pandemic time outside of time, where so much of what I have always known and always done has already slipped away, the moment is right to give up my old notions of Lent.  After all, I’ve already discovered that the pleasures I once might have considered obstacles to Easter—a glass of wine, fresh baked bread, sleeping in on Sundays—have been the very things keeping my spirit intact this year.  Perhaps I will still read my devotional passage each morning and follow it with a poem, like this one from Mary Oliver that I have come to again and again, amen. 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

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